Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DVD Review: Moby Dick (1956)

Moby Dick (1956)
(Released: 2001 by MGM Home Entertainment)
A not so long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

If God ever wanted to be a FISH, He’d be a WHALE!” – Mr. Stubb, second mate of the whaling ship Pequod, from director John Huston’s MOBY DICK.

Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Orson Welles, and a giant whale? (No jokes on that last one, please!) …How could I not love this!

In 1956, I don’t believe it possible to have made a better film version of Herman Melville’s literary classic MOBY DICK than did John Huston. Of course, having a screenplay by Ray Bradbury certainly didn’t hurt!

Peck is first ominous, dark and brooding – then wildly and irrationally vengeful – as Captain Ahab. He does so without the air of camp that decades of “Moby-spoofs” have conditioned me to expect – and with a gravitas that could likely not be duplicated by any of today’s performers.

Richard Basehart, as Ishmael, is the clear “audience-identification” figure, and the calming voice of reason throughout the film. Those who know me are aware that I am second to none in my admiration of the work of Mr. Basehart but, even in 1956, he seemed a tad too… shall we say “life-experienced” (rather than “old”)… to play his character as a wide-eyed, wandering romantic of a youth, yielding to the call of the sea.

Orson Welles drops in for once scene, but it’s a beauty, as the village priest delivering the whalers’ prayer.

And, John Huston takes the MGM special effects department to great heights in bringing “The Great White Whale” to life.

Indeed, I must believe that the techniques employed in the making of this film, might have actually FOLLOWED Richard Basehart to 20th Century Fox television and his series VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, given the frequent use of whales therein.

So much time and care is spent on Huston’s setup of the characters and situation, that Moby Dick is not actually seen until 1:18:59 of the film’s 1:55:02 length. But, MAN… does that whale ever know how to steal a picture! Especially at the end!

Not that Peck’s Ahab gets upstaged without a fight:
From HELL’S heart, I STAB at thee!

For HATE’S sake, I SPIT MY LAST BREATH at thee!


Geez, Ahab… Get angry much?
Not enough specific CONS and PROS to make a list this time.
The one definite “CON” is in the area of “Extra Features”. Aside from the Theatrical Trailer, there are NONE. However, as this was a 2001 release, I’ll be forgiving – as the “rules and expectations” for producing a movie DVD were hardly set at this early stage of the development of consumer digital disc media. I suspect this version of the film was merely “ported over” to the newfangled “digital format” from its VHS incarnation, with the trailer tacked on as a bonus.

PROS: Huston’s film is a magnificent spectacle to behold… particularly for its time!

The cast is first rate, and the transfer is good.

One additional note for animation fans: The title cards for “MOBY DICK” were nicely parodied in the 1962 MGM TOM AND JERRY cartoon “Dicky Moe”, produced by the vastly underrated Gene Deitch.

This is a great film, produced too early in the history of the consumer DVD to have had the benefit of a great package. As I doubt it is a popular enough film to merit a deluxe Blu-ray release, I’d say buy or rent a copy and enjoy.

…And don’t forget to call Richard Basehart “Ishmael”! After all, he asks that of us at the film’s opening… and I wouldn’t want to let him down!

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